How COVID19 is an opportunity to revive indigenous knowledge systems
Academic and classroom-based education systems have suppressed and marginalized indigenous knowledge systems for decades. However, COVID19 has provided opportunities to reverse the dominance of imported academic education and reposition indigenous knowledge systems for contribution to development. College students and school children whose time was always taken by classroom learning are now spending much of their time in homes and local communities.
Although online learning is being touted as a solution, African countries lack expertise to package content for online learning. Infrastructure to support online learning is also lacking and, more importantly, since knowledge related to online infrastructure is imported, African countries have no control over the cost of data bundles which is beyond the majority of parents including smallholder farmers. Poor connectivity in cities and total absence of connectivity in most rural areas makes online learning irrelevant for the majority of African communities.
The rise of indigenous knowledge
Closure of schools and colleges in response to COVID19-induced lockdowns is awakening African countries, school children and tertiary students to abundant indigenous knowledge which they previously did not have time for due to the monopolistic demands of academic classroom-focused learning. During the lockdown, students in rural areas have time to learn through domesticating livestock, harvesting and processing crops as well processing herbs into diverse medicines. On the other hand, instead of spending time in online lessons and watching television, enterprising school children and students based in cities are acquiring indigenous knowledge through visiting mass markets to learn about different types of food, sources, demand cycles and marketing systems.
What is gaining traction is mind-set change from imported content and learning processes where learning is about reading, writing and examinations to using the structure of African economies in transforming the education system. For instance, rural economies are endowed with vast natural resources like land, water, sunshine, forests and others within which local communities have lots of indigenous knowledge. That knowledge can be systematically packaged into curricula the young generation as they move to the new normal. Once they master and convert these resources for their own employment generation, young people will contribute meaningfully to socio-economic development.
Addressing structural unemployment
Much of the unemployment in Africa is structural in that academic literacy is not matching industrial requirements. The collapse of multilateral corporations and replacement of these institutions by Micro Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) and smallholder producers driven by indigenous knowledge systems calls for a total revamp of the education system. To be relevant, education is supposed to be applied within MSMEs and millions of smallholder producers who are absorbing shocks from COVID19 by ensuring continuous availability of food and local herbs.
Most urban parents are running MSMEs but there are no succession pathways for the young generations who are asked to stay at home until it is safe enough for them to go back to classrooms for learning imported knowledge. MSME industries and mass markets are examples of institutions driving African economies but students studying engineering, food science, sociology, economics, agriculture, medicine and other courses are roaming the streets waiting for universities to be opened when they should be acquiring new knowledge from the MSMEs sectors, markets and farming communities.
COVID19 disruptions should awaken policy makers to think outside the box. The way they are fighting to keep COVID19 out of the economy should be the same effort exerted to protecting and promoting indigenous knowledge systems through transforming and contextualizing academic content as well as learning systems. Indigenous knowledge systems cannot be acquired through Zoom or online lessons but curiosity-driven practical engagement.
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